Like the Prodigal Son contemplating how low he had fallen, some people find it easy to admit their sins. After living a life of debauchery, they draw the same conclusion: I have sinned against God and against my family.
The need for repentance is usually more obvious to the “tax collectors and prostitutes” than it is to the “scribes and Pharisees”.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the young man ends up feeding pigs. Even worse, he longs to fill his stomach with pig food. This is how disgusting life becomes for anyone who gets trapped in a life of lust and drunkenness.
Is there anything worse than feeding pigs? If I had to choose a graphic phrase to talk about the problem some people have, I’d talk about feeding spiders. Although Jesus didn’t use the phrase, he came close enough when he accused the Pharisees of being white-washed tombs full of dead bones and spider webs.
When this problem afflicts our soul, no tell-tale sign signals the rot inside, except perhaps a certain spiritual emptiness.
However, if I have such a problem, it may remain hidden to the world and to my own eyes. I can be spiritually empty and not realise that my soul is a barren wasteland.
Christians who suffer this defect cling to a sense of righteousness. They do many good deeds and often feel holy.
Like the scribes and Pharisees, they take offence if anyone implies that they need to repent. They feel offended because it is obvious to them that they are living the kind of life that the Bible commands.
They can say, as the Pharisee in the temple said, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind ... I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.”
This happens especially to Christians who hold a grudge against someone. It could be a friend, a relative, a boss, a spouse, a colleague, a neighbour. It could be for some terrible crime or some trivial disagreement. Instead of forgiving, they nurture the idea that they are victims, like Christ himself.
Unlike Christ, they will not be satisfied until they get “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”.
Grudges come in all shapes and sizes. As long as you entertain fantasies of revenge, it will grow and become more bitter by the day, until it destroys you.
If you detect a hint of this in your own soul, remember Christ’s warning: “If you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.”